The Little Drummer Boy: A Story of Humanity & Kindness

Oprn Drdsmr: Kid Lit Musings and Review by Cheli Mennella

Keats’ The Little Drummer Boy Hits All The Right Beats

Okay, I’ll admit it – I have a real soft spot for the song, “The Little Drummer Boy.” Some of you may cringe every time you hear it, and if you’ve been walking around stores this holiday season you’ve probably heard any number of the hundreds of versions by different artists – some rocking, some soulful, and some just overly synthesized and dramatic. But I can’t help it, the song has drummed its way into my heart ever since I was a little girl. The simple lyrics, potent imagery, and rhythmic beat pull me right into the essence of the song’s story, which for me revolves around the spirit of giving, shared experience, and the power of music to transcend language, race, religion, and economics.

Though I always associated the song with Christmas and the birth of Jesus, I never thought of it as a “religious” song. My experience with the song has always been more about humanity and kindness. There’s a child-like wonder to it, embedded in the child’s perspective, the presence of animals, and the honesty of emotion. The rhyme, rhythm, and repetition in the lyrics and in the constant drumbeat of “pa-rum-pum-pum-pum” have always pulled me into the song’s story. And all of this makes “The Little Drummer Boy” ideal to put into book format for young children. My favorite illustrated version is by Ezra Jack Keats, published by Macmillan in 1968. Keats brings the song alive, fills it with patterned, graphic collage and muted hues of paint. He gives faces to the characters and places them in an emotive, desert landscape with a moody sky that changes throughout the span of the day and reflects the breadth of the boy’s emotions.  Read the rest of this entry »

“The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats” at The Carle this Summer

50th Anniversary of The Snowy Day

The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats pays tribute to award-winning author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (1916–1983), whose children’s book,The Snowy Day,was the first modern full-color picture book to feature an African-American protagonist, published in 1962 at the height of the civil rights movement in America. The exhibition marks the 50th Anniversary of The Snowy Day which paved the way for multiracial representation  in American children’s literature.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art presents a new exhibit – The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack KeatsOpening on June 26th, 2012 the exhibit is made up of over 80 of Keats’ works, including sketches, collages, and drawings, photographs of the author, and some of his less well-known Asian art and haiku, and will run through October 14, 2012.

Keats’ work is significant not only in that his children’s books (The Snowy Day, Whistle For Willie, and Peter’s Chair) have been read to and loved by many families, but is important also in that it features African-American protagonists in run-down urban settings.  In fact, The Snowy Day was the first full color children’s book to feature an African-American protagonist.  The settings depicted in Keats’ work reflect the environment in which he grew up, and the stories portray African-American characters in environments representative of urban life during the 1960’s.

By visiting the exhibit, families can begin a group dialogue about civil rights, urban life, and racial politics.  These themes are best for older students, who are beginning to learn about or have some background knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement, but Keats’ illustrations can be appreciated by kids of all ages!  Older students can also use the exhibit as a means of learning and thinking about how art is used to convey big ideas – not only does Keats provide effective illustrations for his stories, he offers a truthful portrayal of urban African-American life. For more information visit www.carlemuseum.org.


Illustration Credit: Ezra Jack Keats, “Peter, Archie and Willie crept out of the hideout.” Final illustration for Goggles!, 1969. Paint and collage on board. Ezra Jack Keats papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

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